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70,000 March Through L.A. Against Prop. 187 : Immigration: Protesters condemn the initiative and burn an effigy of Gov. Wilson.

October 17, 1994|PATRICK J. McDONNELL and CHIP JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In one of the largest mass protests in the city's history, a more than mile-long column of nearly 70,000 demonstrators marched from the Eastside to Downtown on Sunday in boisterous condemnation of Proposition 187, the immigration initiative, and its principal advocate, Gov. Pete Wilson.

"This proposition is not against the illegal (immigrant), it's against children," declared Salvador Alendar, a 32-year-old textile factory worker and Mexican native who carried his 2-year-old daughter, Lisbeth, on his shoulders throughout the march's almost four-mile route.

It was a sentiment repeated by other outraged marchers and by the dozens of speakers who took to the elevated podium set up at Spring and First streets, just across from City Hall, and addressed the multitudes assembled beneath an azure sky.

"We decided as a family that we needed to come and express our feelings on this 187," said Samuel G. Perez, 60, a retired auto worker from San Fernando, who marched with his children. "They are playing games with us and that's not right. Politically, it's wrong and it's racist."

The march was the latest in a series of anti-187 demonstrations, but polls have shown continued strong support for the initiative. By contrast, proposition backers have run a near-invisible campaign from their Orange County base, mostly responding to news media inquiries and appearing at forums.

Proposition 187, among other things, would bar illegal immigrants from receiving public school educations and a range of other state and county-funded benefits, including non-emergency health care and a variety of social services.

March organizers said more than 100,000 participated Sunday, but police estimated that 60,000 to 70,000 took part. The crowd included nearly 100 Cal State Northridge students and instructors.

It was the largest protest gathering here in decades, surpassing Vietnam War-era demonstrations including the historic 1970 Eastside march for Chicano rights that turned violent and left three dead.

Police reported no serious injuries and no arrests on Sunday. Hundreds of volunteers helped to guide the orderly, regimented crowd, which formed a column more than a mile long, a roiling river of banners, flags and placards moving triumphantly down Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, renamed for the late United Farmworkers Union founder. Eastside sidewalks were packed and impromptu vendors set up shop selling "No on 187" T-shirts. Another design declared "No Re-pete," a reference to Gov. Wilson's reelection bid.

The governor's image was burned in effigy near City Hall during the speeches, placed in a coffin and depicted on placards, T-shirts and elsewhere with a noose around his neck, as a pig, and in other pejorative images.

Daniel Antonio Rosales, 21, of Burbank, and Alberto Ibarra, 28, of Granada Hills, vented their anger at Wilson through a bit of street theater, depicting Wilson as a man on a short leash who is controlled by others.

"It's a good way to bring out the crowd spirit and berate Wilson in a humorous way," Ibarra said.

Jorge Garcia, dean of the school of humanities at CSUN who took part in the march, said the turnout was a response borne of the frustration of "being dumped on" for too long. "It's time to challenge them openly and publicly. And this is just a little town meeting among a few people," he said as he marched with another educator from Cal State Los Angeles.

Garcia said the practice of blaming illegal immigrants for economic woes isn't new in the United States. Latinos, he said, are the latest targets of a cycle of scapegoating that has been around since the 1880s.

"First, it was the Chinese, then the Okies," he said. "Now it's us."

Despite participants' anger, the mood on Sunday was mostly exuberant, leavened with ethnic pride. Flags of Mexico, El Salvador and other Latin American nations were everywhere. The event had been heavily promoted in the Spanish-language media and at community organizations statewide.

Marchers converged across from City Hall where, before speakers addressed the throng, three horn players performed a mariachi riff of "The Star-Spangled Banner" to thunderous applause.

Though the vast majority of participants were Latinos, reflecting the region's large immigrant population from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, non-Latino whites, Asian Americans, African Americans and others also took part.

"Anyone who says the immigrants of California are not working and are on welfare is lying," Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who made a spirited bid against Wilson in the Republican gubernatorial primary race, told the crowd.

City Councilman Richard Alarcon, who represents a portion of the east San Fernando Valley, dressed in crisp white shirt, walked arm in arm with event organizers and other politicians in the first row of the procession. He joined Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) and City Councilman Mike Hernandez as a speaker on the podium at the end of the march.

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